Author: Dan Sabbagh
Liam Fox has said a post-Brexit immigration policy should favour those who want to come to the UK because they have a job offer, as he sought to talk up the country’s economic prospects after leaving the EU.
The international trade secretary said the 2016 referendum result demonstrated the British public had rejected free movement but said any future plans had to take into account the UK’s employment needs.
“I think the public can differentiate between people who come here with a job and will be contributing to the economy and those who under free movement were able to come to the United Kingdom and use our public services without ever having contributed to them,” Fox told LBC radio.
“We need to look in the future at how we match our employment opportunities with our migration policy,” he said, suggesting he favoured a two-tier system.
Britain is yet to spell out what sort of migration policy it wants to introduce after Brexit, and a much-delayed white paper on the topic is due to be published at some point in the autumn. Net migration is supposed to be limited to 100,000 people a year although the target has never been achieved.
Many sectors of the UK economy are reliant on workers from elsewhere in the EU, such as in agriculture or healthcare. About 5.6% of NHS staff are EU nationals, and there have been repeated warnings that healthcare provision would be disrupted if the UK cannot easily recruit from overseas.
The Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, who acts as a spokesperson for the pro-remain campaign group Best for Britain, asked whether Fox was signalling future government policy, in which there would be free movement into the UK for people with job offers.
“Liam Fox needs to come clean and tell us is this the government’s plan or just more shooting from the hip,” Moran said. She said she believed free movement had benefited Britain and should be protected.
Fox was speaking as he unveiled a strategy aimed at boosting Britain’s exports to 35% of GDP from the current level of 30%. He warned about the risks of a no deal before going on to argue that Brexit was in danger of dominating the thinking of business.
The minister, a prominent Brexiter during the referendum campaign, said at the launch event that Brexit was not “the only issue that is out there” as he outlined a vision to get more businesses of all sizes to tap into emerging markets, including China and Africa.
He said: “It’s really interesting when I go to China, when I go to other parts of the world, they talk about the global economy, they talk about tariffs, talk about the United States and China, they talk about the WTO [World Trade Organization].
“And in the UK we talk about Brexit and Brexit and Brexit. It is an important issue, but it isn’t the only issue that is out there in terms of global trade.”